Saturday, January 30, 2010

Consonance, Dissonance.

Friday is the Muslim day of rest and consequently one of my days off from work. Last Friday I was out for a long run along the canyon near my house when the midday call to prayer rang out. Three different mosques within a half mile each broadcast different sermons over the loudspeakers placed high up in their respective minarets.

The sounds bounced off the walls and mixed in with the music on my ipod as I made my way up the canyon. Three separate Arabic lectures on piety distorted by loudspeakers, layered on top of songs from Yo La Tengo and Girl Talk and perhaps appropriately, Spiritualized.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Unresolved Ambiguity.

Look, we all knew it was coming and frankly I'm surprised it took this long. Put a bunch of people who think highly of themselves into one building and tell them to write a bunch of reports and it's really only a matter of time. This week two of my bosses had a strenuous disagreement about the usage of the Oxford Comma.

I don't want to keep anyone on the edge of their seat, so I will say that the matter was resolved. It was decided that the Oxford Comma is often seen as extraneous, anachronistic and kinda dumb.

It was also decided that my unending use of the passive voice was a matter for discussion, but I'd rather not get into right now.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


The Oud is a stringed, wooden instrument that is thought to be a little over 5000 years old. It may have first been played in the Arabian Gulf, but later the center of Oud scholarship moved north to Baghdad. As the Islamic empire spread across the Middle East and into North Africa the Oud went with it. When Islam spread into southern Europe, once again the the Oud came along. The Europeans had trouble pronouncing the name of this new instrument called Al-Oud, but they quickly incorporated its sound. The name slowly changed from Al-Oud to the more Spanish sounding, El Lute and finally just the Lute.

Monday, January 25, 2010


I was running past one of the many parks that are scattered around the neighborhood this morning, and strewn about the entrance were rakes and brooms and even a set of leaf blowers.  I entered the park, confused to see all the detritus of the usual Bangladeshi landscaping crew unattended.

As I jogged down the main path I saw a pair of dusty black loafers sticking out from behind a tree and as I rounded the corner I saw all six of the guys curled up asleep together on a big plastic mat, like a bunch of kittens tired after a day of play.  I kept running by and the guys were completely undisturbed by me

Thirty minutes later when I returned along the same path, they were still there, asleep and content as can be.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

What it is. (VII)

Bahrain is:

Seeing three different shitty cover bands in the same day all play Journey's "Don't Stop Believing." By the time the evening is over you feel quite strongly that Cold Fire is your favorite Filipino cover band in all of Bahrain.  I mean, when they started playing "Living on a Prayer," you could have sworn Bon Jovi was in the building.  And you can barely even describe their version of Lady Ga Ga's "Just Dance."

Friday, January 22, 2010

What it is. (VI)

Bahrain is:

3:30am and trying to finish your Heineken, but also trying to stay awake.  You blink and try to watch the Polish MTV on the flatscreen across the room through the sheesha smoke.  Beyonce and Doda and then GaGa follow each other on the TV and you watch the procession of Russian, Ethiopian and Filipino prostitutes trying to make that last minute connection with their johns; the nearing day-light desperation clearly affecting both the supply and demand of the busy sex trade.

You're tired and your clothing smells of smoke and your friends finally agree that it's time to call it a night and head home.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What it is. (V)

Bahrain is:

Three skinny Arab boys with big hair and tight jeans clearing the dance floor so they can do coordinated dance moves that they've clearly been practicing at home for days.  They pop, lock and slide for almost 15 minutes while the rest of the club takes the chance to refill their drinks or shout at each other over the music.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What it is. (IV)

Bahrain is:

The Black Cave Discotheque.  A faux, concrete, cave-shaped alleyway painted black that leads into a dark club where a table full of white-robed Saudis sit together on one side of the empty room.  They look stiff and awkward and surprised that you've stuck your head into their club.  Bad Arabic music plays.  You back out slowly while almost running into a pair of heavily painted Lebanese whores.  Or maybe they're Moroccan.  Or Iraqi.

You leave the Black Cave Discotheque unable to explain what you've just seen.  You insist to your friends that they have to see it for themselves to possibly comprehend it.  They oblige you.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What it is. (III)

Bahrain is:

Riding the go-karts next to the Grand Prix track until you feel ill from the aforementioned brunch.  It's also waking up the next day with bruised ribs from getting thrown around in your go-kart seat on the really sharp turns.  None of this deters you from wanting to ride the go-karts again the next time you come to visit.

Monday, January 18, 2010

What it is. (II)

Bahrain is:

Watching the slow, sad decline of empire via the sweaty, bloated red faces of the British expats drinking themselves into a frenzy at the all-you-drink champagne brunch while they sing along to Bob Marley songs about redemption.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What it is. (I)

Bahrain is:

Getting to watch Zombieland by yourself. And when I say by yourself, I mean your friends didn't come with you because they wanted to see Avatar instead; but it also means that you are the only person in the entire movie theater. You walk in and the room is empty and the projectionist puts his head in and waves and starts the camera up just for you. It's not platinum class seating, but hey, this is pretty nice.

You have the place to yourself, you laugh out loud and talked back to the screen. You could make some phone calls just to top things off, but there doesn't seem any point.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Used to it.

I am officially 100% acclimatized. Clear skies and temperatures in the mid 70's; I've been wearing a sweater all day and my hands are cold.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Help.

I was standing around the airport for about three hours, waiting for an arrival that kept getting delayed. It was boring, but I also enjoy the airport here; it's really fun to see all of the different nationalities that pass through. The Pakistanis, the Afghans, the Indians, the Sri Lankans, the Filipinos, the Russians, the Australians, the Ethiopians and the Sudanese. And I'm sure many more, but I've not quite perfected my ability to differentiate national dress or the color of a passport from a distance.

Anyway, I was enjoying watching the parade of nations when a tall, thin police officer walked out of the Customs area holding a huge stack of green passports. Following immediately behind him, as if the flood waters had crested over a dam, came a rush of Indonesian women. Hundreds of short women carrying overstuffed duffel bags, their hair covered with colorful lycra scarves, trundled along behind him. I stopped counting after 120, but it must have been an entire plane dedicated to importing these women for domestic help.

No one else in the airport seemed to find this unusual and by the third hour, when I saw the exact same sight happen again, I too was jaded and turned back to the soccer game on TV.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Cleaning Up.

Well, I wouldn't like getting my haircut either if it meant that some guy had to pull on my lips throughout the whole process.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

At the Barberbshop.

The two men stood with their arms crossed and stared at me sitting nearby. One looked to the other and said in Arabic, "Does he speak French or English." The other replied with a shrug.

In Arabic I said, "He speaks English, but also a little Arabic."

Unimpressed, the first guy said to the other, "He speaks a little Arabic." The second guy uncrossed and then recrossed his arms. "Does he have any cigarettes?"

I stood and said in English, "Sorry I don't have any cigarettes."

The first guy smiled and turned away.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


After living in Micronesia for two years I was pretty good with a machete. It turns out that this particular talent was not the only resume-enhancer that I picked from my time in the islands. Two years of eating pig's brains, dog hearts, turtle fins and spam were good preparation for life in the desert as well.

Last night my host pulled the tongue directly from the roasted skull of a whole goat and offered it to me while explaining that it would honor him if I ate the best part of the goat. I did exactly what I learned from my time in Micronesia; I thanked him for the honor, smiled and took a big bite.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Oil or Something.

A different time while waiting for the Poma lift (it was a busy day) in Ski Dubai (yep, still totally ridiculous) I chatted with a kid who was fully decked out in new snowboard gear. He was from Scotland, but his family moved to Dubai a few years back when his dad got a job "doing something with oil or something. I don't really know."

He liked living in Dubai and didn't think twice about the fact that his twice weekly after-school activity was to snowboard in a mall in the Persian Gulf. (Or maybe that's Arabian Gulf? Never mind, it's a touchy subject.) "I mean, it's a fun place and my friends are here and we like to hang out. Plus, when we're done we can get snacks at the food court." This made perfect sense to me and we high fived in agreement.

Later I was talking with one of the Ski Dubai employees who was standing at the bottom of the "hill" next to a SLOW sign. Apparently, some people are able to get enough momentum from their 85 meter decent that a sign is necessary to remind them to slow down. It wasn't really a concern for me. Anyway, I noticed that the guy wasn't wearing any gloves and seeing as Ski Dubai is kept at a constant 28F year round (yes, even when it is 110F outside) I asked if his hands were cold.

He looked down at his hands as if just noticing them for the first time. "No, I'm never cold in here. I'm from Nepal." That was enough of an explanation and we both laughed.

Perhaps that is the best description of Dubai I can come up with. It is a city state where you can find a Nepalese man staying warm in an artificial ski dome inside one of the world's largest malls inhabited with expat children whose parents do something with oil or something.

Monday, January 4, 2010

At the Mall.

I was in Dubai (it's ridiculous) standing in line for the Poma lift at Ski Dubai (it's even more ridiculous than you can imagine) and having a great time watching the mix of cultures. A young Arab kid passed a few people in line to stand next to his friend. Next to me a British man shuffled over and tapped the kid on the shoulder. "Excuse me young man, but are you cutting the queue?" The boy shrugged his shoulders and said that he was just trying to stand near his friend in line.

I assumed that this was the end of the interaction, but I underestimated the British love of queues and order. "Do you think I'm an idiot? I just asked you if you cut the queue and you told me no? Obviously you are not meant to be here."

The boy, surprised at the outburst turned around around and walked to the back of the line. The British man crossed his arms and with a satisfied look announced to no one in particular, "It's important to keep standards."